Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'

The original Somerset and Dorset Railway closed very controversially in 1966. It is time that decision, made in a very different world, was reversed. We now have many councillors, MPs, businesses and individuals living along the line supporting us. Even the Ministry of Transport supports our general aim. The New S&D was formed in 2009 with the aim of rebuilding as much of the route as possible, at the very least the main line from Bath (Britain's only World Heritage City) to Bournemouth (our premier seaside resort); as well as the branches to Wells, Glastonbury and Wimborne. We will achieve this through a mix of lobbying, trackbed purchase and restoration of sections of the route as they become economically viable. With Climate Change, road congestion, capacity constraints on the railways and now Peak Oil firmly on the agenda we are pushing against an open door. We already own Midford just south of Bath, and are restoring Spetisbury under license from DCC, but this is just the start. There are other established groups restoring stations and line at Midsomer Norton and Shillingstone, and the fabulous narrow gauge line near Templevcombe, the Gartell Railway.

There are now FIVE sites being actively restored on the S&D and this blog will follow what goes on at all of them!
Midford - Midsomer Norton - Gartell - Shillingstone - Spetisbury

Our Aim:

Our aim is to use a mix of lobbying, strategic track-bed purchase, fundraising and encouragement and support of groups already preserving sections of the route, as well as working with local and national government, local people, countryside groups and railway enthusiasts (of all types!) To restore sections of the route as they become viable.
Whilst the New S&D will primarily be a modern passenger and freight railway offering state of the art trains and services, we will also restore the infrastructure to the highest standards and encourage steam working and steam specials over all sections of the route, as well as work very closely with existing heritage lines established on the route.

This blog contains my personal views. Anything said here does not necessarily represent the aims or views of any of the groups currently restoring, preserving or operating trains over the Somerset and Dorset Railway!

Monday, August 15, 2011

stone age or steam age?

One of the main criticisms we get at the New S&D is 'When Peak Oil hits the last thing we'll worry about is running trains'.

(Which of course means 'Why bother?')

Hmmm. This is perhaps a valid view IF you think Peak Oil will result in some sort of return to the Stone Age - which of course appeals to novelists and filmmakers. But why? We didn't have oil when the first railway age was upon us - this country was built on coal and steam. Substitute 'coal' for 'wood' and you'll get an insight into my angle on this.

Of course we won't return to the Stone Age, much as some nihilistic types might want us to. The roads and cars and lorries will vanish of course, domestic electricity may become an occasional thing for those of us that still rely on the grid (or its successor(s)), globalization will go and probably most states will break up into smaller ones, diesels will vanish from the railways (so get out and photograph them now!) but there's no reason for us to go back centuries, just a few decades.

So we'll see steam return on railways that aren't electrified, many new railways and tramways will be built and most of us will probably be engaged in a trade and grow most of our own food. But is this so terrible? And don't forget that everything we've learned over the last 300 years will still be there for us.

Eventually once the trauma of Peak Oil is a folk memory I suspect that we'll start progressing again, using solar power. We may even, eventually, get back out into space. Who knows?

The only real certainty is that, for several centuries, we'll all come to rely on our local railway to bring in goods and to get us out and about!
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Brian said...

Have a look at this one, its well on topic here I reckon:


Folks generally have a romantic idea of how things were before we had cheap oil. Everything was damned hard work but it kept folks fit even though they died younger (go figure paradox) and of course society was more "all pulling together" with tough love and practical morality. My father told me about this, from when he was a kiddy and the best of that era had not quite yet been seen off by events we now call "history". Yep, we sure have a "broken society" which will have to be fixed by whatever means to survive whats coming all too soon.

Personally I believe there are far too many people on this island to be supported anything like the luxury lifestyle all expect, absent that cheap oil. I dont want to get into setting forth the alternatives I see up ahead for this other than that the later its left, the worse its going to be in every way, matching the number of people with what the land can support. Transport is but one part (an important part) of a wider picture in this.

One thing I can envisage with some personal glee is a return to actually making the things we use at a local level, instead of just importing it all from wherever sweated labour is cheapest. That dont work anymore when fuel is priced according to what it really should be used for, rather than wasted like much of it is now. No more of this nonsense about forcing us all to "buy a new computer" every so many years. We shall do well even to keep one computer going, look what its made from and where all that presently comes from ! Maybe we need computers made mostly of wood not plastic (I have seen one, really) and designed more like the Morris Minor car, to be upgraded and kept going not junked.

What do other folks think, am I a goggle-eyed loon for seeing this up ahead ? I have to not speak about it in some social circles, its like being "the village idiot" to talk thus.

Perhaps we should get out the museum drawings of fat little plantation engines with balloon stacks and wide fireboxes for bagasse. Add some roller bearings and start making them in batches to be fired up with harvested reed beds behind a Severn Barrier, instead of canefield waste from mills. What say you?

Sunshiner said...

Brian, this is pure common sense, as I suspect you realise!

Most commentators assume a huge 'die-off' of population as the oil runs out. The mechanics of this are not pleasant to think about, which is probably why a lot of people don't like discussing it. I suspect post Peak Oil the UK will have a job to support ten million people, though if it's over a long enough time it won't be too painful I suppose.

The ability to make things will be highly valued and I suspect that nobody will be without gainful employment post Peak Oil, except perhaps the very old and very young. This doesn't automatically mean we'll be living intellectually impoverished lives or kids will be up chimneys again, though of course we will all have chimneys I suspect!

The economy will be based on wood and solar power, both are technically sustainable though solar will be a much more high-tech option, and therefore perhaps a little rarer, and most of us will utilise wood for heating etc

The technological progress we've made over the past five hundred years won't be lost to us, but perhaps for centuries, until there is a genuine solar/sustainable economy in place, much will be 'on hold'. I don't go along with the apocalyptic and dystopian view of the future - we won't want to live like that and will find ways to avoid it.

And if you do get a few headbanger types attacking this point of view simply turn the question back on them and ask them exactly how the world is going to work without cheap and easily available oil. They'll soon shut up!

Anonymous said...

Didn't have time to create a user name, but just wanted to add to the comments on people's expectations. There are generations of people who despite being well educated and informed, are actually utterly sold on the status quo - that is cheap goods, fuel, and two holidays abroad each year. Many factors have enabled this, but it would seem that we have nearly reached some kind of societal tipping point - not necessarily for the worst, but definitely in a different direction to what most people would expect.

My other point is that personal automotive transport has been sold as a personal choice, some kind of nirvana like freedom. It's time to get the message out that in reality, for most people, the car is the only choice, and therefore they are totally dependent on it. What is needed is a rebalancing of personal choices for people - empowering them again to choose between modes of transport, rather than relying on total car usage. I have a railway line running right through my village, but I have to take a car to work - how is that right in this modern era of personal freedom and choice?

Sunshiner said...

Really appreciate your points - thank you!